London P&I Club has noted that members would be aware that the US was not a party to the IMO’s Ballast Water Management Regulations and that it had introduced its own legislation. It further informed members that the State of California had developed even stricter requirements.
Vessels arriving at ports in California from outside of the Pacific Coast Region intending to de-ballast in California waters were currently required to conduct any ballast exchanges in open seas. The Pacific Coast Region (PCR) is defined in California legislation as east of 154 degrees West longtitude and north of 25 degrees North latitude. Open seas are defined as at least 200nm from the nearest land and in minimum 2,000m of water depth.
Vessels whose voyages begin within the PCR and which intend to de-ballast in California waters must conduct a ballast water exchange at least 50nm from the nearest land and in minimum 200m of water depth.
Californian legislation now applies maximum fines of $27,500 per tank where no ballast exchange has been made and between $5,000 and $20,000 per tank where there was an exchange within the zones of 200nm and 50nm from land, depending upon how close to land it occurred. Falsification of records and reports is also punishable by up to one year in jail.
These fines are imposed by the Californian State Lands Commission (CSLC), rather than the US Coast Guard. London Club said that “early experience of the activities of the CSLC points to very thorough investigations being made on board. The location where each ballast tank exchange took place is plotted precisely and substantial fines are imposed for any errors. As the fines are applied on a per tank basis, the sums can soon mount up.”
In one example a vessel on a great circle route across the Pacific carried out a ballast water exchange mid-ocean and mid-voyage, but inadvertently within 200nm of the Aleutian Islands. While the authorities determined the ballast water after the exchange was free of invasive species which could be discharged within California waters, that the mistake was innocent and that oit was a first-time offence, nevertheeless the CSLC sought to impose fines of more than $100,000. The fine was reduced by only 30% on appeal.